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The robot security guard patrolling SF is suddenly unemployed

Knightscope Autonomous Security Robot at PG&E's Mission District property. | Alex Mullaney/The Standard

The noisy security robot patrolling the sidewalks around a Pacific Gas & Electric property in San Francisco is officially out of work.

The Knightscope autonomous robot reportedly began providing security services at utility company’s yard at 19th and Folsom streets in the Mission District earlier in December. The 5-foot-tall machine rolled around the property’s perimeter at a slow speed while emitting a loud whooshing sound—at a cost of $7 per hour, or less than half the $16.99 San Francisco minimum hourly wage for human workers.

Many residents and small business staff expressed displeasure with the robot.

“After some initial testing of the Knightscope unit and proactive discussions with the city on this matter, PG&E will not be continuing with plans to deploy the unit at our Folsom location,” company spokesperson Jason King said.

The Department of Public Works (DPW), which is responsible for authorizing sidewalk robots through its beleaguered Office of Emerging Technology, said no permit had been issued for the robot.

“The code is silent on these types of robots,” DPW spokesperson Beth Rubenstein said. “Mobile delivery robots are allowed, but the code says nothing about this type of machine.”

DPW’s Office of Emerging Technology was designed to handle new tech products that companies set loose on city streets by conducting research, holding stakeholder meetings and developing new regulations with lawmakers. Rubenstein did not answer whether the office was looking into the matter by press time.

It’s not the first episode of non-human security in San Francisco, either. Gap Inc., the homegrown conglomerate clothing retailer, sought permission from DPW last year to operate a robot security guard at its headquarters on the Embarcadero.

The Office of Emerging Technology directed Gap to file a permit, which was later denied by another bureau in the department for being improper.

David Pierce, whose carpentry shop is across the street from the PG&E yard, said the sound emitted by the robot was loud and could be more pleasing.

“We love change,” Pierce said. “And I’m down for street robots, but we should do it in a compassionate way.”

Alex Mullaney can be reached at